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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Marine biodiversity initiative for Central America: international partnership for research and training on marine biodiversity and genomics

PI: Jorge Huéte-Pérez (Universidad Centroamericana - UCA)
U.S. Partner: Martin Polz (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2014
 

Nicaragua Picture A
Dr. Axel Meyer speaks on the evolution of Midas cichlid fish schools in Nicaraguan waters (Photo courtesy Dr. Huete-Perez).

The goal of this initiative is to assemble an international network of scientists to train local researchers and assist them in the study of neglected Mesoamerican coastal marine biodiversity and the impact of climate change (e.g., via ocean acidification), specifically in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. A cross-disciplinary approach that integrates taxonomy, molecular biology, and genomic techniques with biodiversity conservation will be used. This network will identify gaps in knowledge to determine the course of more in-depth research on the current status of marine biodiversity in Mesoamerica, leading to the development of collaborative programs on the sustainable use of marine resources and better understanding of anthropogenic influences on ocean biodiversity. The project will begin with the first International Conference on Central American Marine Biodiversity and Genomics to be held in Nicaragua. It will be followed by planning sessions and committee building to create an international network to develop a strategy for advancing marine biodiversity research and conservation in the region. The network will hold training and project development workshops during which students and scientists will be trained in sample collection, DNA sequencing, and data sharing, in addition to field training. The conference will present previously prepared discussion papers on priorities for research and the development of collaborative plans. Participants will discuss the scope and objectives, further training needs and outreach mechanisms, roles and responsibilities, expected development outcomes, data sharing, project sustainability, and funding.
This initiative expects to advance scientific and technical knowledge for informing development-related policies by building regional capacities on marine biodiversity and conservation, improve the capacity of local institutions, enhance the technical infrastructure of local, and impact the broader community in the region through partnerships between researchers, community leaders, authorities, educators and students. An asset of this project is the current pilot work of Dr. Huéte-Pérez and his team in the Gulf of Fonseca, which is committed to fostering the “sustainable use of its marine and coastal resources and the integrated management of its ecosystems” through trinational cooperation. UCA has teamed with the European Union to work with communities in the Gulf to create a consciousness of the value of their marine resources. The expanded human resource capacity coupled with substantive advancement in the knowledge base relating to the coastal ecosystem will enable more appropriate public policies and decision making relating to the marine biodiversity coastal zones. The project will contribute to setting the stage for eventual commercial activities based on local stewardship of coastal resources and on diversification of the coastal economy.
Summary of Recent Activities
This project is aimed at assembling an international network of researchers to provide training and support to local Central American scientists studying coastal marine boundaries and climate change impacts. To this end, the first training workshop, which focused on marine ecology and genomics techniques, was held in Managua on October 25, 2013. The meeting was attended by researchers from several Nicaraguan institutions, as well as a group of scientists from the Evolution Biology Laboratory at the University of Konstanz in Germany. The workshop not only gave participants the opportunity to build capacity but also provided an opportunity to form a network of scientists working towards the development of a strategic plan for assessing marine biodiversity in Nicaragua.
 
Future plans including adding to the research team and organizing two training events. A field research and training workshop in March 2014 will be organized in collaboration with U.S. partner Dr. Martin Polz and Dr. Libusha Kelly. The Marine Biodiversity and Genomics Conference in May 2014 is expected to draw discussion papers from the Central American network of scientists. Dr. Huéte-Pérez and his colleagues will also continue to focus on building the Central American Network and continuing their research on the status of marine biodiversity.
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